Mapo Tofu is classic homestyle Szechuan cooking. To me, that means comfort food. It's not something that you see on too many menus at Chinese restaurants, whether it's a take-out joint or a classy joint. Perhaps that's because it's not really an attractive dish, or it's too peasanty, who knows. My dad used to make various versions of this dish, never the same twice, and I'm not even entirely sure that there is one specific way that is truly authentic. Mine is certainly far from authentic because I too never make it the same way twice. But the constants are simple: tofu, minced meat, and spicy.
My simple way to get spicy is from chili garlic sauce. I think the real way involves Szechuan peppercorns, which are not easy to find (until recently they were not available here at all), but this sauce serves its purpose just fine. I used ground pork this time, but I often use ground beef, and for some reason I always throw in edamame now, I just like the contrast in texture. This is by no means an authentic recipe, but it's quick and easy and really satisfying. Recipe after the jump:
EASY (FAKE) MAPO TOFU
1 tbsp peanut or vegetable oil
1/2 pound ground beef or pork
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 package firm tofu (not silken)
2 tablespoons chili paste or chili garlic sauce (or more, depending on your preference)
1 teaspoon black bean paste
1/4 cup chicken broth or chicken stock
1 cup frozen shelled edamame
3 scallions, chopped
In a large heavy skillet or saute pan, heat oil, then crumble, salt, and brown meat. Add chicken stock, chili sauce, and black bean paste. Cut the tofu into 1-inch cubes, add to the pan, and allow to simmer for 5 minutes or until heated through. If the mixture is too dry, add additional stock. Add the frozen edamame and most of the scallions (hold back some for garnish), simmer an additional 5 minutes or until edamame are cooked. If the mixture is too soupy, make a slurry of cornstarch and water, add to the pan and simmer until desired consistency. Serve over steamed white rice and garnish with chopped scallions.